If you’re a child of the 60′s, you’ll recognize who said those famous words—Muhammad Ali. Having spent almost 40 years in advertising, I’ve studied and read about some of the greatest minds in advertising. Those would include Leo Burnett (Tony the Tiger), David Ogilvy (the Hathaway man), Bill Bernbach (remember “think small” for VW?) and George Lois. Lois was the creative director for a smash magazine of the 60′s, Esquire. While it’s still around today, it was on the cutting edge of censorship in the 60′s. George Lois created magazine covers for Esquire with Lt. William Calley after the My Lai massacre. He dressed Sonny Liston, the heavyweight boxing champ and “meanest man on earth” like Santa Claus and one of his most famous covers was of Muhammad Ali on this April, 1968 cover. George is probably better-known for his “I want my MTV!!” campaign to introduce the channel to American in the 80′s.
The idea for this magazine cover came about when Ali refused to join the US Army’s fight in the Vietnam War because of his recent conversion to Islam. It was shot by George, a regular photographer and creative director for Esquire covers during the ’60s.
This cover shot is one of the most memorable in magazine history. The image shows the former heavyweight champion with six arrows in him, which were supposed to kill him.
The direction for this shoot was inspired by the story of St. Sebastian. He was martyred after he converted to Christianity. He was tied to a stake and shot at with six arrows. He survived and was taken to safety. After he was nursed to health, he went out in the street and helped a blind girl regain her sight by converting her to Christianity. When she could see, he cried out to the Lord and was heard. He was then clubbed to death.
The consequence for Ali’s rebellion may not have been murder, but he was punished. All the respect he had earned over the course of his career was thrown out. He was called a traitor, a draft dodger and was stripped of his heavyweight title and passport. He was banned from fighting, too. But, still, he stayed true to what he believed in. And today, he still does.
My hometown of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph will display statues of Muhammad around the city this summer and I’m lucky enough to be their photographer. It was one of the typical days in my life when I received an urgent call. “Can you do this today???” “Of course! It’s what I do.” So the photos were taken and submitted for a magazine doing a story about Benton Harbor and the sculptures.